Australia : Finish / PCWRC - Summary
An excellent drive by an ecstatic Jari-Matti Latvala (FIN, Subaru) and co-driver Miikka Anttila rewarded the Finnish duo their debut PCWRC win on Telstra Rally Australia, the penultimate round of the 2006 FIA Production car World Rally
San Marino driver Mirco Baldacci brought his Mitsubishi to the finish in second, recording his best result of the season, ahead of local driver Dean Herridge (Subaru) who claimed the final podium place. Latvala, Baldacci and Herridge also finished sixth, seventh and eighth overall, taking three, two and one WRC driver points respectively.
Qatari Nasser Al-Attiyah (Subaru) will now head to the final round in New Zealand for a battle for the title with Japanese Fumio Nutahara (Mitsubishi), where Al-Attiyah will start with a seven point advantage in the PCWRC standings. While Baldacci scored points in Australia, only a win would have kept him in contention. Local driver Herridge, representing Subaru Team Quasys, was competing in Rally Australia for the 13th time of his career. He made a fantastic start to his home event, leading the PCWRC standings from the start of leg one proper.
Latvala and Baldacci flirted with second and third on occasion but Toshi Arai (J, Subaru), who has won this event for the last two years, was Herridge's nearest competitor on leg one.
However, after taking a tyre compound that was too hard for the opening stages on leg two, the 30-year-old Australian steadily dropped down the order as Arai adopted the lead and the Mitsubishis took their turn to shine.
Marcos Ligato (RA, Mitsubishi) ended the first leg in sixth but a run of four stage wins pulled him into second by SS14 and Latvala and Aki Teiskonen (FIN, Subaru) consolidated their respective third and fourth places. Baldacci, who had a good first day, struggled with traction and tyre choice on the leg following and a spin on SS13 lost him some time, allowing others ahead.
But disaster struck for reigning PCWRC Champion Arai whilst leading, as he saw all chances of defending his title disappear after a broken suspension caused an off-road excursion damaging a steering arm and causing an electrical problem that could not be rectified. The Japanese was forced into retirement. Bad news for Arai was great news for Ligato as he happily adopted the lead on SS17. A near-perfect drive looked set to hand him victory until he was also handed a huge dose of bad luck when a damaged engine also forced him into retirement with only three stages left to go.
But that was not the end of the drama as Teiskonen, running behind Latvala in second, was fighting to keep his championship title hopes alive as only a victory would fulfill that. He may have taken one risk too many as he rolled his Impreza on the penultimate stage of the rally, taking his championship hopes into the ditch with him, leaving victory wide open for Latvala and Teiskonen eventually finished fifth. Baldacci's difficult second leg took a turn for the better on the final day and a trouble-free run and close fight with Herridge saw the San Marino driver take second on the final stage, as Herridge's ongoing gearbox issues pulled him back to third.
Sergey Uspenskiy (RUS, Subaru) and Stefano Marrini (I, Mitsubishi) were unable to get through SS6 on day one as Chris Atkinson's car fire blocked the stage and as a result, were awarded a notional time, as were Latvala, Ligato and Herridge who stopped to offer their fire extinguishers to save Atkinson's car. The Argentine was on his second outing in Australia but having rolled early on the first day last year, the leg one stages were new to Beltrán this year and he started with caution. But a steady and trouble-free run rewarded the Argentine with five points for fourth place.
The PCWRC's only Russian competitor Uspenskiy was on his debut outing in Australia but as he was still slightly nervous after his accident in Russia and with a small amount of continuing pain in his ribcage, he drove steadily and reached the finish in sixth behind Teiskonen, with hardly a scratch on the car. Marrini also had a trouble-free run but on such a notoriously tricky event, his aim was to drive steadily, not make any mistakes and his reward was three points for seventh.
Not a fan of fast rallies, Fumio Nutahara (Mitsubishi) spent leg one driving cautiously, perhaps a little too cautiously as he found himself in seventh by the end of the fist day. But not wanting to take any unnecessary risks and conscious of the championship title, he decided to simply consolidate his position on leg two only for him to be sidelined on SS22 with a broken engine. Luckily, penalties applied for the final few stages not completed were few enough for him to still take home a valuable point.
OMV-driver Jasen Popov (BG, Mitsubishi) had engine problems on leg one and by SS7 was SupeRallying as a result of a broken turbo. He restarted leg two but his turbo broke again on the first stage of the day and, with no service scheduled, the Bulgarian struggled through the next five stages. It was fixed in service only to break again in SS17, finally causing the end of his rally.
Following post-event scrutineering, Gabriel Pozzo (RA, Mitsubishi) and Sebastien Beltrán (RA, Mitsubishi) were excluded from the rally after being found to have a non-compliant turbo restricter. Marcos Ligato was also found to have the same non-compliant part. As a result, are suspended from contesting the final round of the Championship and all three crews will have all 2006 PCWRC points withdrawn.
Leszek Kuzaj (PL, Subaru) was excused on medical grounds before the event started. Nigel Heath (GB) was excused from the event for personal reasons.
Jari-Matti Latvala, Subaru Impreza Sti Spec C
“This was so important to me and I've been waiting three years for it! I've had such a difficult season and this is a real boost for my self confidence. I was lucky when Ligato retired as this is such a difficult rally to drive, especially the long stages. Now I believe in myself more than ever! And I can't wait to tell my Dad! Now I have two weeks to relax and then we're back to business in New Zealand. It's a great day for Finnish rallying with Mikko [Hirvonen] winning the rally overall too!”
Mirco Baldacci, Mitsubishi Lancer Evo9
“Yesterday I knew there was still a lot of rally to go but second it a fantastic result for me. Everything was working perfectly today – the tyres were working well, we had no problems and the team did a great job. I'm really happy!”
Dean Herridge, Subaru Impreza
“This rally went from a dream to a nightmare and back to a dream again! We've had lots of support here and it's even better that we scraped a WRC point too, so there will definitely be a party tonight! This a really special result as we've had our fingers crossed all day. Unbelievable isn't it! I thought the gearbox problem the second time round was the end. Now I'm speechless!”